The Symposium is organised by the Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University of Chiang Mai, in collaboration with the Focolare Movement and the Rissho Kosei-Kai, the Buddhist lay Movement which has been active over a number of decades in inter-religious dialogue at a worldwide level.
The title of the congress ‘Dharma, Compassion and Agape in today’s world’, has a subtitle that is particularly relevant to the problems of today’s world: ‘What answer can Religions give to the challenges of globalisation?’ The fact that it was the Buddhist participants to propose this theme is significant and goes to show that it is a problem that affects men and woman in all countries whatever their religion or background.
There are some 150 participants from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, England and Italy. Among these will be thirty monks – Master’s students from the Buddhist University of Chiang Mai – who will be present as observers.
Leaders of many religions will be present at the opening ceremony this afternoon at the Wat Phrathat Sri Chomthong Voravihara temple. Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, Papal Nunzio in Thailand, will be the guest of honour, together with Mons Andrew Vissanu Thaya-anan, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the new Archbishop of Bangkok, Mons Francis-Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij, and Mons Chusak Sirisut, bishop of Nakhon Ratchasima, President of the Thai Episcopal Conference’s Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and the bishop of Chiang Mai Diocese, Mons Francis Xavier Vira Arpondratana. The Rissho Kosei Kai Movement is represented by its President Nichiko Niwano, who will deliver an address.
Also speaking at the ceremony and representing the Theravada Buddhists, will be the highest authority in the Chiang Mai area – Phra Tepkosol – and Phra Thammankalajarn (also known as Ajahn Thong Sirimankalo), who has offered his Vipassana Meditation Centre, at the Temple where he is Abbot, as the venue for the meeting.
Representatives from other organisations will also be present including the Director of the Office of Relations with Religions and Culture of the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Dr. Shanta Premawardhane.
The Symposium follows on from two others which were held in Rome, in 2004 and 2008, and one hosted by the Rissho Kosei Kai and Tendai-shu in Osaka in 2006 and wants to put Christian love and Buddhist compassion at the basis of all that will take place over the next few days. This was very much the spirit of the previous meetings, committing each participant to a sincere search for what unites in order to contribute to the growth of universal brotherhood.
On 3 February the President of the Focolare Movement Maria Voce, who is visiting Asia at the moment, will also speak, and on 5 February she will address the monks at the Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University of Chiang Mai.